Helen of Sanibel

When travelling, we often check in on local farmer’s markets, especially when we have a kitchen to play in. And so last Sunday, under mild and sunny weather, we drove to the Sanibel Island market for inspiration. It offered some expected bounty: tables laden with baskets of jalapeno peppers and tomatoes, bakers selling key lime pies, and hobbyists peddling scented soaps, alongside food trucks serving pulled pork sandwiches and tacos. A bit of everything and a lot of fun.

But we also found unexpected fare. Behind one counter, a red-faced guy with white hair neatly pulled into a ponytail, was selling olive oil, Kalamata olives, vinegars, dried herbs and mountain teas from Gythio, in the Southern Peloponnese. His stall was decorated with photos of the terroir, to add notes of authenticity, and he offered tastings of the oil and olives.

He’s not Greek, as it turns out. But he represents a Greek-American woman named Dáfni, who now lives in Maine but whose family comes from the Gythio area. She imports in bulk and repackages in the United States.

I’ve visited the ancient port of Gythio many times over the years, as it’s close to my birthplace. I have one indelible memory of the town: every dockside café and restaurant is strung with clotheslines hung with hundreds of octopi desiccating in the sun and salty breeze. Grilled over charcoal and fragrant with sea and smoke, the plump mouthfuls are rightly considered the only true accompaniment to a cool glass of ouzo. Gythio is packed every evening with locals clapping their hands for waiters and busily depleting the town’s ranks of octopi.

And another thing: In ancient times Gythio was Sparta’s main port. So when Paris abused King Menelaus’s hospitality by absconding with Helen, the king’s wife, the pair sailed to Troy from this picturesque port. Stealing the king’s wife was considered bad form in ancient times. It led to the Trojan War. But, more happily, it also produced the Iliad and the Odyssey.

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Fortunately I had loaded my Brownie with fresh film.

8 thoughts on “Helen of Sanibel”

  1. I loved this! Thank you for the history as well as enabling some vicarious living. One of my favourite activities when traveling is visiting the local markets. How interesting to have discovered a little piece of Greece where you least expect it.

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  2. Brought back memories of sleeping on a beach on the island of Andros. Sitting outdoors at a restaurant table beside the ocean, watching the fishermen haul in their nests and pluck out tiny crabs. Along the shore were displays of fresh fish, with vendors selling the fish that had been caught that day. Thanks for the memories, Spyro!

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